Perception vs. Reality: Drive Time Isn’t The Only Time For AM/FM Radio

February 19, 2019 By Pierre Bouvard

There is a common misperception among advertisers about when radio listening actually happens. Many believe that most radio listening occurs weekdays between 6AM and 10AM and 3PM and 7PM, a.k.a. “drive times.” Some advertisers only buy drive times thinking they’re getting most of AM/FM radio’s audience.

The drive times perception could be based on AM/FM radio’s strength in vehicles. After all, AM/FM radio dominates in-car listening. According to Edison Research’s “Share of Ear” study, AM/FM radio has an 86% share of ad-supported audio in the car.

It would stand to reason that when the highest percentage of Americans are commuting to and from the workplace, AM/FM radio would see the highest listening audiences. But is that actually the case?

In January, Advertiser Perceptions, the gold standard of advertiser and agency sentiment, surveyed 301 marketers and agency professionals to see when they think AM/FM radio listening happens.

Perception: Advertisers estimate more than half of all AM/FM radio listening happens during “drive times”

When thinking about traditional AM/FM radio, advertisers and agencies believe 28% of listening occurs during weekday morning drive, 6AM-10AM, followed by Monday-Friday afternoon drive, 3PM-7PM, at 24%. Middays 10AM-3PM was third at 14%, narrowly inching out nighttime and weekends.

Nielsen reality: Middays are number one and weekend listening is greater than suspected

While the perception is over half of AM/FM radio time spent occurs during morning and afternoon drive (Monday-Friday, 6AM-10AM and Monday-Friday, 3PM-7PM), Nielsen reports only 42% of AM/FM radio listening occurs during drive times.

Nielsen Audio shows there’s a stark difference in perceived and actual AM/FM radio listening. The highest share of time spent among adults 25-54 is middays, 10AM-3PM (26%). Morning (21%) and afternoon (21%) drive times are also strong.

Why does Monday-Friday, 10AM-3PM have 24% more listening than either morning drive or afternoon drive? Monday-Friday, 10AM-3PM is a five-hour daypart. AM or PM drive is only four hours per day.

There is also a major disconnect about weekend listening. Advertisers perceive only 13% of all listening occurs during the weekend. The Nielsen reality is 21% – as big as morning drive!

The “only buy drive times” myth is dangerous and harmful to advertiser sales growth

Countless sales lift and ROI studies conclude that the number one media factor that drives sales is reach. The more people a campaign reaches, the greater the sales lift. Increasing reach insures a campaign can impact sales.

Restricting AM/FM radio buys to drives times misses 60% of the radio audience. It reduces reach and harms advertiser sales lift.

In the example below, an advertiser put all their money into morning drive and reached 22% of the market. As dayparts are added using the same budget, reach grows and grows.

Adding PM drive, middays, nights, and weekends grows reach from 22% to 33%. Spending the same budget on a broader daypart mix caused reach to soar +54%.

AM/FM radio is the soundtrack of the American worker
AM/FM radio doesn’t just dominate in-car listening during drive time. It is also there during the day when Americans are working. Nielsen reports that 76% of AM/FM radio listeners fall in the 18-64 age bracket and are in the workforce. Tune in occurs when they’re commuting and when they are at their place of employment.

Drive time is an important time for radio advertisers but the reality is middays and weekends are just as effective for advertisers to reach consumers.

Key takeaways:

  • Perception: Advertisers estimate more than half of all AM/FM radio listening happens at “drive times.” The reality is only 42% of AM/FM radio time spent occurs during drive times.
  • Nielsen reality: Middays are number one (at 26% of total radio time spent) and weekend listening is greater than suspected and has as much listening (21%) as morning and afternoon drive.
  • AM/FM radio dominates in-car listening and is the soundtrack of the American worker.

Pierre Bouvard is Chief Insights Officer at CUMULUS MEDIA | Westwood One.

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